The cold wind blew around the comforting brick walls of ‘Mother B’ (Bancroft Hall). Flakes of snow teased the windows, attempting to gain access to the warm interior of the Middies home. In one of the two man rooms, a plebe sat at his desk, reading and rereading a terse note of no more than four lines. The look on his young face was a mixture of anger and sadness. Slowly, he crumpled the note, took careful aim, and shot it over into the wastebasket. As it landed squarely in the center of the basket, the door opened and his roommate entered.
“Hey! Was that incoming to get rid of the roomie or to get rid of the offending message.”
In one scoop, Chip Morton retrieved the note from the basket and uncrumpled it. Reading it once, he looked first at his roommate and then back at the note.
His tone and demeanor immediately changed. “Geez, I’m sorry, Lee! I know you were looking forward to going home for the holidays. Is this set in stone? I mean is she really not going to be home for the whole leave?”
Lee stood and kicked his chair. He was totally disgusted, no… let down, disappointed… whatever the words were…
“Look, Chip, don’t be sorry… She’s been like this since she found out that I took the appointment to the Academy. She hates it, the Navy, and me, I’m afraid. We’ve been little more than acquaintances for more than a year. Maybe it’s for the best. I love this place - it’s the best place I’ve ever been in, been a part of… It’s what I wanted and dreamed of…” he shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his winter blues, “ever since I knew it existed. You know my dad died when I was seven, and I quite honestly think that once he died, not a day went by that I didn’t want to go to sea… Now, here I am, in this place, preparing to spend my life on the sea. She doesn’t understand that… doesn’t understand me. I guess I should be angry, but more than anything, I’ve gotten to the point that I feel sorry for her. She’s the one that’s running away, not me.” He shrugged his shoulders, and sat back in the chair. “Anyway, I’m sure that the Prines won’t mind an extra guest at Christmas. When I was there on my Sunday leave, they asked me to share Christmas with them. So, I guess I’ll call them tomorrow and tell them that I’ll be there.”
Chip sat heavily on his rack, staring out the window. His mind immediately gravitated to his Christmas’ past.
…Clarry fixing and fussing in the kitchen. The smell of the turkey and ham and all the food, the pies, the breads, the cookies… his sisters running around his mother ‘helping’ her. His dad fussing with the punch and the eggnog, and his father and grandfather ‘getting into it’ over the components of the eggnog and punch. He never could figure out why the brandy was more ‘right’ for the eggnog than the sherry. And he didn’t ever want to know the components of the punch! One thing he did know was that it packed a wallop. His dad had given him some the Christmas he was 13… ‘to make a man of him, Clarry!’ Two sips (all right, slugs!) and he was down for the count. He didn’t wake up for hours. In fact, he’d missed dinner, dessert, and his grandfather’s rendition of The Night Before Christmas. After that, he vowed to stay away from it…at least until he was better able to handle it.
But what he remembered the most was the warmth, the family, the love of the holiday, feelings that were in the Morton household all the time, but that made memories of the Holidays glow. He was so looking forward to getting home… snow, the lights, the tree that touched the ceiling in the 12-foot high living room. He often thought of his family as a ‘Rockwell’ Christmas picture. Now, all he wanted to do was to be part of it again.
And he wanted Lee Crane to get to know what Christmas was like, too. So as he was thinking about his holidays past, Lee interrupted his reverie.
His voice was sad and had a bitter edge to it. “Somehow, Chip, I don’t think I’m as sorry about not going home as you are for me. All my mother and I would be doing would be making obligatory rounds to the family. Aunt Ellen and Uncle Peter in their big old drafty mansion that actually should be condemned for their god-awful bad taste. Their cook is about ninety, and any food that they serve is either over cooked and awful or undercooked and awful. They sit and talk at you, not to you, and they let you know just how wealthy they are and how much they have. They’re my father’s sister and her husband, and I don’t like them at all. My mother, however, insisted that we always see them on Christmas. They’re family. From my earliest memories, Dad didn’t exactly like them or their attitude either, even if it was his own sister.” He snorted, “I got the same gift from them each year. A scarf and a ten-dollar bill, to be put in my savings account. Cold, stodgy people, full of themselves and their wealth. And we had to see them, and two others of the same type, on Christmas, because they were family and it was the proper thing to do. The last Christmas that was a good one was the one before my dad died. I was six and we had a mound of presents…and good food and there were a lot of my parents’ friends in and out all day, and well, it was…well…just great!”
He shook his head sadly. “The next year, Dad was dead and we didn’t have Christmas at all. No tree, no food or friends, no presents. Nothing. I didn’t understand why. I mean, to a seven year old, that’s just unthinkable…not to have Christmas. Mom didn’t bother to really explain it, just told me that we weren’t going to have a Christmas. That was the year we started going to the ‘family’. So, you see, I’m not missing anything… nothing at all… except maybe some Alka Seltzer®.”
“Hey, man…I’m really sorry. I don’t’ know what else to say… ‘cept that I’m sorry…”
“Look, don’t worry about it, Chip. I’ll be fine. I learned a long time ago to take care of myself. I’m fine.” Lee pulled his chair back into the desk, “I’ve got to get this chem project finished and to the Commander in the morning. I really don’t have the time to think about Christmas…” And in attempt to change the subject, “How’s the study for the Rhetoric class coming?”
“A real ball buster. I’m not the type to do any formal speaking. Just give me a ship and the men to sail it…forget about any kind of speaking … Not for this sailor!”
“Humphf! With your damn luck, you’ll probably become an aide to some big shot and have to write all his speeches and deal with his press.” Within a split second, a pillow sailed across the room and hit Crane squarely in the head.
“Not on your damn life, pal! I’m not going to find myself in that kinda situation… you’ll see!”
Crane humpfed again and the two roommates settled down to study until Taps. By the time of Lights Out, they were ready for the rack and both fell asleep almost immediately.
Both plebes moved through their days that week with their usual efficiency and thoroughness. By the end of the week, they were looking forward to the weekend and the upcoming weeks of leave. Thursday night, as they were hitting the books, Chip stood, stretched and looked over at Lee. Crane had been more quiet than usual since the letter from his mother and Chip wanted to give him time before he broached the subject of Christmas again. He had a plan, as well as Clarry and Joe Morton’s support. He’d make it work, not that the simple invitation was difficult to make. It just had to be done at the right time. Chip thought that this was the right time.
Crane looked up, “Yeah? What’s up?”
“About Christmas…did you ask the Prine’s?”
“No…haven’t had the time. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.” And he returned his attention to his book.
“Uh, how about an Illinois Christmas?”
Crane’s head jerked up. “Huh?”
“I said…how about an Illinois Christmas? Look, I’ve already talked to my folks and they want you to come.”
Lee pushed away from the desk, a mixed look of concern and uncertainty on his face. “I dunno, Chip. I don’t want to impose. Christmas is family time and you’ve got so many things that you’re planning to do for the holiday and on your leave…”
“Yeah, and your point is? If I have things to do, I’ll drag you along and you can do ‘em with me… We’ve plenty of room, and plenty of food and family. Man, just say yes, ‘cause my dad’s already got you a plane ticket. He’s not about to risk a drive to Maryland and have to worry about snow at anytime. I’m flying home and you’re coming with me… Right?”
Without the expected reluctance, Lee softly said, “Yes,” and suddenly, the Christmas Holiday began to look much better to the lonely plebe from Rhode Island. Much better indeed…
Maybe Christmas wasn’t going to be so bad after all…
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